Addressing Racial Bias In North Carolina’s Judicial System

Aug 23, 2019

Democratic State Senator Floyd McKissick Jr. represents District 20 in Durham County.
Credit Courtesy of Floyd McKissick Jr.

A University of Michigan study of North Carolina death penalty trials from 2012 showed that prosecutors on average struck black jurors at 2.5 times the rate of white jurors. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court forbid prosecutors from using the basis of race alone to reject jurors, racial bias is alive and well in North Carolina’s justice system.

Democratic State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., who represents Durham, sponsored the Racial Justice Act that was passed into law in 2009. The Racial Justice Act sought to address racial bias in capital cases in the state, for those on death row at the time, and for cases in the future. A superior court judge converted the sentences of four death row inmates to life in prison without parole. But the Racial Justice Act was repealed in 2013, and those four inmates were put back on death row.

Now the North Carolina Supreme Court is reconsidering the decision to revert those sentences — and considering two other capital cases where racial bias may have played a role. Host Frank Stasio talks to Sen. McKissick about the history of the Racial Justice Act and what he thinks needs to change to address prejudice in the state’s judicial system.